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Uncharted Waters: A Preview of Harvard's Ambitious Spring Sailing Season

In 2019, Harvard competes in the NE Women's Championship for the Reed Trophy against MIT. The Crimson will open its 2023 spring season with the Sharpe Trophy in Providence, R.I. this weekend.
In 2019, Harvard competes in the NE Women's Championship for the Reed Trophy against MIT. The Crimson will open its 2023 spring season with the Sharpe Trophy in Providence, R.I. this weekend. By Timothy R. O'Meara
By Emma S. de Jong, Contributing Writer

Harvard's sailing team is set to kick off its spring season with the Sharpe Trophy regatta this weekend. After a successful fall season with six first-place wins, including the Open Atlantic Coast Championship, the team hopes to continue its momentum through to the upcoming season.

The team is preparing for over 25 regattas throughout the season, including five hosted in Cambridge, and aims to qualify for the ICSA National Championships in May. Harvard sailors will also adjust to the additional style of team racing, where they will rely on strong team dynamics and cohesion. For Harvard, the ultimate goal is to win the New England Championship, which would give it a chance to win or place on the podium at Nationals.

With regatta-packed months up ahead, Harvard is braving the low temperatures and ready to set sail as it gears up for its first regatta of the spring season, the Sharpe Trophy, which takes place this weekend in Providence, R.I., hosted by Ivy foe Brown University.

Harvard will enter the Bay State armed with its successes from a tremendous fall season, which saw the Crimson exhibit strong results across disciplines and qualification teams. Harvard accumulated a total of several first-place wins, most notably, the Open Atlantic Coast Championship (ACC) in October. The strong tally of results from the season translated into a stellar first-place overall ranking for the co-ed group within college sailing.

Head coach Michael O’Connor hopes to channel this momentum through into the upcoming season, but he reflected on several critical learning points from the fall.

“We were pleased with our performance for most of the fall season. There were opportunities where we could have performed better in certain conditions, and this is something we’re going to try to improve on as we always do,” O’Connor said. Nevertheless, he is confident that the expectations and successes will “translate well into the spring season.”

This spring, Harvard will host five regattas in Cambridge and compete in four others within the Boston area. To compete in the ICSA National Championships, college teams must first qualify through conference championships. Nationals is the main target for success for the spring, as it is widely regarded as the most defining college-sailing regatta of the year.

“The spring season is where everything major happens,” first-year sailor Kennedy Leehealey said. “Everyone's super stoked for the next season because of how we came out of the first season. The fall was a trial period, and with Nationals coming up, this is the season that really matters.”

Similarly, O’Connor stressed the importance of Nationals for Harvard’s overall ranking, emphasizing that “our goals are to win the New England Championship, which gives us a very good chance of winning Nationals or even getting on the podium.”

Harvard sailors are preparing to dedicate themselves to success in the impending event of the season. “It is important to peak at the right time towards the end of the season when Nationals occur,” first-year sailor Mitchell Callahan said. “Up until then, I think it’s about learning and developing as much as we can, learning as a team together, building chemistry and a bond to implement later in the upcoming months.”

However, in preparation for the upcoming season, all college sailing teams must adapt to team racing. Diverging from last season’s main format of fleet racing, wherein boats from three or more teams compete, team racing only entails two competing teams, which each sail two to four boats of the same class.

Nonetheless, the Crimson is confident in its ability to harness this modification in racing style and reap strong results. While Leehealey recognizes that “team racing is a whole other ballgame,” first-year sailor Justin Callahan is looking forward to this racing style and hopes for a fluent team dynamic.

“Mitchell and I have done a lot of team racing before. In team racing, you’re relying on each other for results to make the right plays, and to have each other’s backs on the water. A strong team dynamic creates a cohesiveness and trust between us that allows everyone to execute the plays properly,” Callahan said.

As the Crimson heads into the spring season this weekend, the value of a strong team effort and dynamic in the prospect of continued success will be critical, according to the head coach.

“I’m very happy with the team’s effort up to this point, and of course, with their racing results [from the fall]. I’m really proud of who these people are and how they represent Harvard, and I hope that we can make a run at the National Championships,” O’Connor said.

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